I went to the Wal-Mart on Friday night. For all of you who do not share my admiration for Wal-Mart as the ultimate place to meet America, we must continue to agree to disagree. It is often a happy place, as it was on this visit. It was approximately eight o'clock in the evening, and it was pay-day, and it was wall-to-wall families of every color with raptured expressions on their faces. The joy was contagious. Although I went in for something simple, I caught the fever (it was pay-day for me too). I walked out with "treats" for the whole family, cheap DVDs, a CD for the kids, a magazine for my wife and something for me: "Merle Haggard: 24 All-Time Greatest Hits."

I own quite a bit of Merle, but this one is special. This offering from "TeeVee Records" showcased "country's greatest singer/songwriter," claiming to feature all the "songs that made him a legend." There he was on the cover, perhaps early-to-mid-1970s Merle, hard-eyed and chiseled, bearded, hairline just beginning to recede--but still jet black.

Hey hey, the working man, the working man like me
I ain't never been on welfare, that's one place I won't be
Cause I'll be working long as my two hands are fit to use
I drink a little beer in a tavern
Sing a little bit of these working man blues

Once this election passes, I intend to consider the American electorate at a crossroads. Who we are. Where we want to go. How the Democratic Party lost us. Can they get us back? Why the GOP seemed to understand us but now seems incapable of sealing the deal. Part of the answer of who we are lies in country music (American music). Why the hicks from the sticks lost faith with the Dixie Chicks. How President Bush missed an opportunity to call the Toby Keith/Martina McBride generation to national service.

Finally, on Sunday afternoon, I had the chance to listen to the Merle CD. Driving along Waco Drive, crossing the Brazos River Bridge into East Waco, I listened to:

If we make it through December
Everythings gonna be all right I know
It's the coldest time of winter
And I shivver when I see the fallin snow

If we make it through December
I got plans of bein in a warmer town come summer time
Maybe even California
If we make it through December we'll be fine

I got laid off down at the factory
And there timings not the greatest in the world
Heaven knows I been workin' hard
I wanted Christmas to be right for daddy's girl
Now I don't mean to hate December
It's meant to be the happy time of year
And why my little girl don't understand
Why daddy can't afford no Christmas here

I had my son with me, who loves Cowboy music; he really liked "Okie From Muskogee" and "Fighting Side of Me." It is rear-end kicking music.

After buying groceries, we drove through Bellmead, Texas, on Hwy 77, with the distressed cemetery on our right and the long-ago, shut-down General Tire plant on our left, the honky tonk and the black church and the gravel pit flew past us. This could be Springsteen country--but it's not; it is Haggard country--even if an increasingly alarming percentage of the population no longer recognizes the name.

He dreamed of something better, and my mama's faith was strong
And us kids were just too young to realize
That another class of people put us somewhere just below;
One more reason for my mama's hungry eyes.

Mama never had the luxuries she wanted
But it wasn't cause my daddy didn't try.
She only wanted things she really needed;
One more reason for my mama's hungry eyes.

I remember daddy praying for a better way of life
But I don't recall a change of any size;
Just a little loss of courage, as their age began to show
And more sadness in my mama's hungry eyes.

America survives:

A christian Mom who had the strength, for life the way she did
Then to pull that apron off and do the Charleston for us kids.
Dad, a quiet man, who's gentle voice was seldom heard
Who could borrow money at the bank, simply on his word

The roots of my raisin' run deep
I've come back for the strength that I need
And hope comes no matter how far down I sink
The roots of my raisin' run deep
The roots of my raisin' run deep